by Matt “Bear” Novakovich

Why call me the bear? I like to think that a bear can adapt to its environment and not only survive, but excel, and perhaps dominate. I’d like to think that a grizzly bear in Alaska has become respected and feared because of the sum of that bear’s accomplishments, not simply because it is a “bear.” To survive in Alaska, a bear has endured the harshest weather from 90 degrees F to 50 degrees F below zero. No one feeds a bear- a bear finds its food or dies.  A bear is large and therefore strong, yet must stay lean and powerful to chase down and find its food. A bear will travel for 50 miles in a day to find food, only to burn those calories returning to its home. What does this have to do with Spartan?

Spartan racing has accomplished what no other sport in the world has accomplished to date, the same way the harsh environment in Alaska has made a bear the most vicious, most powerful, and most respected animal in the world. Spartan racing does not apologize for being difficult, even impossible. Spartan racing does not cater to any athlete, yet attracts all of us. Spartan racing is the first sport to demand speed, agility, strength, balance, endurance, fearlessness and to do all these things while being out of one’s comfort zone. Every other sport that I know accommodates only a couple of these attributes and typically leans towards specificity.

What did I do to become a Spartan and receive the title “The Bear” after winning the Virginia Super? I had no idea I was competing in this race until three weeks prior to it. In the months proceeding my first Spartan, I played basketball, football, rode motocross, roofed buildings, climbed mountains, jumped off cliffs, white-water rafted and did the occasional CrossFit WOD.

So how did I win? I won because I am an adapted athlete. I am ready and willing to go long, hard and fast. I willing to jump, sprint, fall and grind. I am willing to do all this while being tired, hungry and uncomfortable. I am willing to come back for more.

So how did I implode at the Reebok World Championships in Vermont? I respected myself and not the race. Norm informed us all, that this race would expose all of our weaknesses. He told us to bring water and nutrients or we would starve. He said it would be cold. I laughed in my head at the thought of “cold.” I’m from Alaska and swim in glacier water. Bring a hydration source? Not me, I go light and fast and I will survive. Weaknesses? Please, I’ll be the last to crack.

I wasn’t willing to sit in 3rd or 10th. I chased and hammered from the start and wasn’t willing to let any of my foes lead. As early as the monkey bars (5 miles) my first cramps were arriving. As early as the barbed wire (6 miles) I begged for a hydration source. As early as the water obstacle (7 miles) I felt like I’ve never been colder. As early as the memorization obstacle I knew I would quit.

I sat in a dilapidated, humbled, hypothermic state with cramps I’ve never faced at the entrance of the forest at only the halfway point. My lead of 9 minutes over the eventual winner, had now been replaced with a burpee penalty that took me over 30 minutes to complete. With my pride at an all-time low, with no reason to continue and with excuses mounting in my head, I decided to quit. The medic witnessing my plight suggested it was a good plan.

I did not quit. Somehow, all of the reasons that make Spartan the greatest sporting event on the planet came together and carried me to the finish line. From “The Bear” to “The Mouse” I sat on the ground and became a quitter. Then the mantras of being a Spartan rang in my newbie Spartan ears and I became “The Bear” again. I crossed the finish line.

Just as a bear adapts to his environment I will adapt to my new Spartan World. In the short week since the world championships, I’ve climbed over 40,000 vertical feet, completed four CrossFitWODS, thrown spears, played basketball and have run with my cross-country running team.

I will become “The Bear” again and will adapt and respect being a Spartan.

What will you become? Register today.

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